“I did not know how to write lyrics and melodies until I was put behind bars. It is there that I learned,”
said Hundessa once in an interview. He was born in 1986 in Ambo – a city about 100km (60 miles) west of the capital, Addis Ababa.
It was at the forefront of the campaign by Oromos for self-rule in a nation where they felt repressed under a government that had banned opposition groups and jailed critics.
Hachalu went to school in Ambo, and joined student groups campaigning for freedom.
At the age of 17 in 2003, Hachalu was imprisoned for five years for his political activities.
Hachalu became increasingly politicised in prison, as he increased his knowledge about Ethiopia’s history, including its rule by emperors and autocrats.
During his time in jail, he wrote nine songs and released his first album Sanyii Mootii (Race of the King) in 2009, a year after walking free.
The album turned him into a music star, and a political symbol of the Oromo people’s aspirations. However, he kept saying: “I am not a politician, I am an artist. Singing about what my people are going through doesn’t make me a politician.”
After coming out of prison he refused to go into exile, kept writing songs and criticising politicians fearlessly.
Although he sang only in Afaan Oromoo, his songs – especially those which called for greater political freedom in Ethiopia – saw him build a fan base across all ethnic groups.